As a midlife woman who grew up in the 60s and 70s, a career was still perceived as an option. Even today, I still make a distinction between a job and a career.
A job is what you do until something better turns up but a career is in the top three things that define you. You will make sacrifices to keep and nurture it.
I met up with a dear friend last week. She has recently retired, and at eight years younger, I have that prospect ahead. We are both passionate about our work. Our careers are hugely important to us. They motivate, drive and inspire. They are hard won, require sacrifice and have helped us through the bad times. They are somewhere to channel energy and to escape and drown sorrows when everything else fell apart around us.
We are not alone. Many people reading this will recognise this split career personality. The positive life force v. the something to hide behind.
My friend has two daughters, one is career driven. She loves her work. Long hours are part of the course. The other loves her work between the hours of 9-5 and then goes home to love the rest of her life. Both have interesting stimulating professional jobs. How can two sisters who have the same female role model be so different? It must be nature not nurture surely?
Or maybe its something else. Our purpose in life has nothing to do with how we make a living.
Of couse you may happen to find some of that purpose in your career but you should not see your career as THE driving force. Do not ask the impossible of it. Do not rely on it to fill other gaps in your life but be clear where it fits in your life.
So which of my friend’s daughters has got it right? Potentially both or neither. It is the motivation that matters, the why, not how many hours you spend at the office.
I feel my generation of women still feel that we have to prove our worth in the workplace. At some level proving we are worthy gets muddled with passion and commitment. As careers plateau in the final decade of work there is a danger of looking back and thinking the effort, the long hours and the passion were misplaced. Far healthier to appraise it objectively looking back with compassion for yourself and the decisions you made. Your passion still needs a channel when work life dims but part of the joy of being a midlifer is recognising that is okay and being excited to say ‘what next?’.